When this season is over we will look back at games like this and realise that unless things change, teams have at last worked out how to thwart Arsenal. But the worst thing about yesterday was the lack of desire and passion and fight from key players. We had a lot of possession based upon how teams set up against us. They employ a 4-5-1 formation, concede possession until the final third of the pitch, then say… “We will block any pass through the middle on the ground, and thwart any cross into Adebayor.” It is so predictable, yet the solution is so straight forward. We need pace down the flanks with a rapid interchange of angled passes to leave the brick wall crumbling. This requires a playmaker in midfield who has the vision to see this angled killer pass, and it needs someone like Robin van Persie who can make those perceptive runs into the danger zone with pace.
Thus it was that leaving Robin van Persie on the bench, Arsene Wenger either signalled surrender to the any ambition to win the league, or as usual, he placed his faith in players who continue to humiliate him with their poor performances. I speak of Eboue and Adebayor of course, with the less than inspirational Denilson. When the curtain settles upon this season, I have no doubt that we will finish in the top four, but we will be several points behind the likely winners. I cannot see us winning the Champions League unless we can avoid Barcelona in the next rounds, which leaves the FA cup as the piece of silverware that this team needs to satisfy the fans. It was the need to beat Cardiff on Tuesday that probably influenced the final selection. All it says to me is that Arsene Wenger does not believe that this team is good enough up front to be absolutely certain of beating a Championship side lying fourth in the Championship, Cardiff City who stand a good chance of becoming a Premiership side next season should they win the play offs.
The game as a spectacle was devoid of fight and pace from an Arsenal side who failed to get a clean effort on target in the first half. There were challenged headers onto the bar or just over from Diaby, Adebayor and Bendtner. But Sagna wasted many crosses by hitting them too high and without pace. Eboue made angled surging runs towards the box, only to be tackled firmly by Parker or Behrami. Eboue replied by his usual histrionics even at one point waving the imaginary yellow card. But Arsenal lacked any dead ball specialist on the field to threaten the West Ham goal. Matthew Upson won every ball in the air and the West Ham midfield pressed the ball and made firm tackles to regain possession. Apart from Nasri and Diaby in midfield, we were below average, content to increase the stats for passes and their completion by aimlessly playing the ball from one side of the pitch to the other.
Eboue finally threw in the towel, after another crunching tackle from Parker, which probably left him with a dead leg in fairness, he was replaced by Carlos Vela who demonstrated in his first 20 seconds of possession what this Arsenal team lacks. Raw pace and desire to go past players. What a pity that Adebayor had remained static and not made a run into the near post as the predictable cut back from Vela’s run materialised. In the second half, Arsenal resumed the attack with Nasri playing centrally, Bendtner out wide right and Vela on the left wing. West Ham had decided to target Vela who they correctly saw as a threat. He was given very harsh treatment, and referee Bennett in his usual inconsistent self, failed to protect the player. Bennett chose only to book a West Ham player for time wasting when Lucas Neill should have been shown a card for cynically taking out Vela as he made a run down the left channel.
Martin Upson’s dominance in the air faded as he was subject to more accurate crosses from Vela delivered with pace and the right trajectory, (Sagna please note!) Despite the renewed urgency with Bendtner and Sagna combining well down the right wing, and Gallas and Toure keeping out the counter attacks by West Ham, we should have won this game with the chances that were presented at the other end. Denilson had two shots that if placed on target, they would have given us half a chance. Toure’s effort of a reverse hooked shot which Collins headed off the line was the closest Arsenal came to scoring until the later misses by Adebayor. Even the late introduction of Robin van Persie which signalled the desperation of Arsene Wenger and his realisation that our attacking force was spent, proved not enough to provide us with the valuable three points to catch Aston Villa who drew away to Wigan. The points were lost by Adebayor in failing to do what he is paid a rumoured staggering £80,000 a week to do. My irritation with this arrogant player is well documented. From his headbutt on Bendtner in our defeat to Tottenham in the Carling Cup last year, to his obvious deficiencies in ball control and striking skills. I have remained largely silent and let Adebayor’s poor play do the talking. This will be my final attack on this player, borne out of anger and frustration with Wenger’s obsession in playing him.
On 22/10/2007 in a blog entitled “Adebayor is running out of time” I wrote the following…
“Adebayor brings a presence to the front line, his runs gets him onto positions where he could deliver the final finish. He creates spaces for others and his great asset is that he can hold up the ball and enable our midfield to get into better positions. He lacks however the first touch and predator instinct which would easily allow him to claim that he is the rightful heir to the old master TH14. However, I have to state that it was Adebayor’s missed header in the first half, when Sagna crossed the ball to him, and he rose unchallenged only to duff the ball feebly into the ground and miss a cast iron chance, was the reason why I decided to make myself so publicly unpopular today. I find it frustrating to see those chances go begging, and in a tense encounter when against the Mancs, or Chelsea, when gilt edged chances have to be taken I hope and I pray that Adebayor proves me wrong.”
Well I could have been describing this game some fifteen months on. The striker has not improved, there was a lot of hype about his goals last season which included 6 against the worst side in Premiership history, if anything he has become lazy and uncaring, and unwilling to work for the team. He wants passes delivered to him on a plate, and his misses put an end to any title ambitions. In the first half, the lethargy that hangs like a murky fog over our side, was crying out for a player to lead with individual flair and ball striking skills. Adebayor can get into decent scoring positions, but then his poor technical skills are apparent for all to see. Adebayor never won a header against Upson in the entire first half, in the second half he had two chances that I argue someone being paid £80,000 a week should have scored. Indeed had Robin van Persie been the recipients of those chances, I have no doubt that we would have won the game.
On 62 minutes, the attack by Carlton Cole across the front of Arsenal’s stubborn defence, was thwarted by the tenacious Gallas, and the ball fell to Nasri who passed it wide to Bendtner who made a good run down the right wing. The move ended with a marvellous angled ball from Sagna, cutting in from the right channel, into the near post. Adebayor’s pace easily left Collins for dead. Adebayor had only to slide the ball past Green at his near post, or at least hook it in with a sliding right foot. Instead he chose to try and deviate the ball with his left foot, a very difficult technical movement, as it requires the quality of first touch, that I know this player does not possess. In letting the ball run across his sliding torso, the attempt was easily blocked against the West Ham defender’s body. Just to emphasise my observations, in the 73rd minute a lovely cross from Vela out wide left saw Martin Upson for once flat footed. Adebayor rose unchallenged to the cross, with the goal and Robert Green at his mercy. Instead of scoring, his lame header was gathered easily by Robert Green down at his right hand post.
These misses and the effect that it has on the rest of the team, are part of the reason why Arsenal fans are now quite correctly getting angry with Arsene Wenger. Wenger can see with his own eyes what we can see. No doubt this is why he has chosen to buy a goal scorer rather than a central midfield player or a centre back this transfer window. The truth is ,that without a resurgent Robin van Persie this season, we would have failed to make seventh place let alone third or fourth. The beautiful game requires pressure on the ball, a talented midfield playmaker, and most importantly a high tempo of running off the ball to enable the rapid one touch passes that can rip the heart out of opponents defences. When players like Adebayor stand static expecting the ball at his feet or we miss good chances, is there anyone left out there willing to defend our current relatively poor quality of play? Our only decent playmaker Diaby was stretchered off in the closing minutes with what looked like a torn hamstring as he battled to try and regain the ball in midfield.
We have developed a reputation by the statistics for scoring late goals and why? I believe it is because we waste the first half of games by our refusal to put in the work rate required. Vic Crescit’s excellent blog on Friday summed up this lack of effort on the part of key players and he suggested that they need to look at themselves and have serious words. Well Denilson may have reduced his tendency to give the ball away cheaply, but the fact is he is just not good enough to be a playmaker. If you bleat that I am being too harsh, and it is because we have a young team, then forget it. The only Arsenal team to deliver the beautiful game this season, were the youngsters…End of!
The loss of Theo Walcott in terms of raw pace and Fabregas in terms of play making has hurt us. The hope is that they return soon enough to salvage our top four position as we are hanging onto this by a thin thread. There were times during the game yesterday, when West Ham midfielders had the ball in central areas with NO pressure from our Arsenal team. I was so buoyed by the prospect of Arshavin’s transfer and the hope that with van Persie in his current form we would score goals, that before the game I put down a £10 bet for Arsenal to win the Premiership, with a local bookmaker. I got 40 to one odds. I really did believe that we would show enough effort and desire to win these games at home against teams below us. What a waste of my money, and now my hopes for Arsenal to go on a winning run and beat the Mancs to the title are over.
Arsenal 0 West Ham 0
Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Gallas, Clichy, Eboue (Vela 36), Diaby (Song Billong 90), Denilson, Nasri, Adebayor, Bendtner (Van Persie 68). Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Ramsey, Djourou, Gibbs.
Booked: Diaby, Vela.
West Ham: Green, Neill, Collins, Upson, Ilunga, Behrami, Parker, Noble (Nsereko 70), Collison, Cole, Di Michele (Boa Morte 83).
Subs Not Used: Lastuvka, Lopez, Spector, Tristan, Sears.
Booked: Collins, Neill.
Att: 60,109 Ref: Steve Bennett ( Kent).
Fabregas the King.